By Amaury Rodríguez and Nelson Santana
August 16, 2018
How far will a government go to shut down dissent?
On the morning of August 13, people in the Dominican Republic found out one of the possible answers to that question when social media users circulated images of the front-page of all the main newspapers featuring a government-paid ad highlighting what the government of President Danilo Medina believes are major accomplishments of his administration.
However, there was one problem with those government-sponsored front-page ads. In fact, the ads blacked out the morning news on the massive Marcha Verde (Green March) anti-corruption march that had taken place the day before.
The government ads pushed the major print news outlets— HOY, Listín Diario, El Día and Diario Libre—to place what was supposed to be front-page news on one of the largest anti-corruption mobilizations in recent months to page 2. Meanwhile, activists and independent journalists are criticizing the government for using public funds for propaganda purposes.
According to social media users and Marcha Verde activists, the fact that the government purchased an ad a day after one of the largest mobilizations in recent months is an indication that there was a deliberate attempt to manipulate public opinion.
Marcha Verde activists also criticized and ridiculed the media blackout on the mobilizations and fought back by posting and sharing images and videos of what turned out to be a well-attended, combative and historic mobilization.
Transnational Media Blackout
That same week in New York, home to one of the largest Dominican communities abroad, right-wing nationalists held a press conference calling to boycott the annual National Dominican Day parade under the grounds that Haitian nationals were supposedly invited to march. The group used racial and xenophobic language to turn Dominicans against their Haitian neighbors and relatives and cast suspicion on the parade organizers.
The Dominican media orchestrated attacks on an apolitical, cultural event where many nationalities march in unison to celebrate the diversity of New York and the Dominican community.
The Dominican mainstream media, which knows no boundaries, continued its media blackout or irresponsible journalistic coverage by propagating lies about the National Dominican Day Parade in New York. According to the major news outlets such as Listín Diario and El Caribe, the parade failed, as they claimed it was not well-attended due to the “success” of the boycott. Listín’s headline read, “Parada Dominicana en NY fracasa” (Dominican Parade in NY Fails) while El Caribe’s headline read,“Baja asistencia en la ‘Parada Dominicana’” (Low Attendance at the Dominican Parade). According to the negative articles that attempt to discredit the parade and its organizers, their falsely claimed “failure” is attributed to the “boycott” that the Instituto Duartiano and other organizations such as Agenda Dominicana called upon in a press conference that took place three days prior to the parade.
According to Dominican journalists who serve as mouthpieces of the government, some of the organizations that did not attend the parade include the Consulado Dominicano in New York, Cibao Meat, and 809 Restaurant Bar & Grill. Since the press conference took place at 809 Restaurant, ESENDOM contacted 809 and a staff member said the manager would get in touch. However, the 809 manager did not return ESENDOM's phone call.
A conservative group of Dominicans called the press conference in response to the false allegations that parade President María Khury and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio invited a Haitian delegation to the parade. In fact, no official delegation from Haiti attended the parade.
Two groups that did attend the parade include members of the Marcha Verde movement and the collective We Are All Dominican, groups that Dominican nationalists or Nazionalistas accuse of deteriorating the Dominican Republic as they allege these groups want to fuse both Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Nazionalistas oppose any political organizing based on class issues. The racist groups backed by Nazionalistas do not want people to engage in political activism since it challenges the status quo, the very thing far-right propagandists want to protect by scapegoating Haitian immigrants and creating divisions in society. Similarly to Trump supporters, the members of these racist organizations believe any fake news and conspiracy theories that come to light.
Similar to the massive mobilization in Santo Domingo, Dominicans and allies in New York also marched to the tune of anti-corruption in the parade, hence the negative campaign. In addition to Marcha Verde members, Instituto Duartiano members—not all, however—and allies vilified We Are All Dominican (WAAD). Although the press conference—which received the full support of the Dominican government—claimed that Khury and de Blasio invited a Haitian delegation, they really referred to Marcha Verde and WAAD.
Unfortunately for the people who spoke at the press conference, including the Instituto’s president, this is not the first time that one of their targets marches in the parade. WAAD has marched in past parades and issued a statement as a result of the hateful reactions they received for their participation. Marcha Verde came into prominence in 2017 and marched for the first time this year. WAAD advocates for the rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent. Marcha Verde is a grassroots movement that aims to bring to justice corrupt government officials and improve conditions for all Dominicans. It is important to note make a distinction, however: some Marcha Verde members are anti-Haitian nationalists and clash with progressive Marcha Verde members on this matter. Hence, there are ideological differences and divisions among Marcha Verde members.
The reality is that journalists such as Roberto Gerónimo, Ramón Mercedes, and Miguel Cruz Tejada are mouthpieces of the Dominican government who rather depict a non-critical Dominican narrative that serves the government’s preferred narrative.